Updated April 14, 2020
Following this posting on April 3, PAN received additional information from the BC CDC on hepatitis C testing in the light of COVID-19. BC CDC has released the following memo, Temporary suspension of non-urgent Hepatitis C (HCV) testing. Most recent information appears in memo and below:
All non-urgent hepatitis C testing at the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory (PHL) is temporarily suspended to redirect resources to support COVID-19 testing. This includes all routine hepatitis C screening and testing related to hepatitis C treatment. The BCCDC PHL performs more than 95% of all BC’s hepatitis C testing. When hepatitis C testing resumes, health care providers will be notified.
People can sign up for hepatitis C testing reminders through SmartSexResource.com, or sign up to the STI Updates blog to receive a notification when hepatitis C testing resumes.
What hepatitis C testing will continue?
Hepatitis C testing will still be conducted for:
- Specimens that were received at the BCCDC PHL by March 31, 2020
- Hospitalized patients
- Emergency situations
- Organ donors
Is it safe to wait until after the COVID-19 crisis to get hepatitis C testing?
Yes. This may be challenging for people who are waiting to get hepatitis C tested, treated, or to find out if their treatment cured their hepatitis C infection. While hepatitis C infection does cause progressive liver damage, the decision to suspend non-urgent hepatitis C testing was carefully reviewed by BC Medical Health Officers, laboratory experts and the BC Provincial Health Officer (BC PHO). They determined that this short term change will not pose undue risk to the health of British Columbians. Hepatitis C medications cure over 95% of people who finish the treatment.
What if someone has been exposed to the blood of a person living with hepatitis C infection?
People concerned about a possible exposure to the blood of someone with hepatitis C infection, or other possible blood infections (e.g., hepatitis B, HIV) during the COVID-19 crisis, contact your primary health care provider or local urgent care centre, to discuss urgent testing and other possible follow-up, within 72 hours (if medications to prevent HIV are recommended, they should be started within 72 hours, and ideally within 2 hours). During the COVID-19 crisis, the BC Provincial Health Officer’s guidance is to avoid non-urgent medical care, and to focus on home isolation and physical distancing precautions.
Who to contact to discuss concerns
- Request a telehealth consult with a healthcare provider
- Visit the BC Hepatitis Clinics map to find out who to call in one’s area
- Visit Help4HepBC or call 1-888-411-7578 to speak with a peer who has lived hepatitis C experience
- Health Care Providers can call the BCCDC PHL to clarify urgent hepatitis C test-related issues related to hepatitis C testing
If a person thinks they might have hepatitis C, they can prevent passing it to others by not sharing:
- Injection drug use equipment (e.g., needles, syringes, cookers, water, filters, spoons)
- Other drug use equipment (e.g., bubble pipes, pipe stems, straws)
- Personal items that might have tiny amounts of blood on them (e.g., nail clippers, toothbrushes)
Hepatitis C is only passed on through blood-to-blood contact, so things like hugging and kissing are safe. However, hugging and kissing with people outside of your household may put you at risk for COVID-19. It is possible for hepatitis C to be passed on through condomless sex if there is exchange of blood, so always use condoms and water-based lube to reduce the risk of possible transmission.
Learn more about COVID-19 at bccdc.ca/covid19